India’s comprehensive victory in the fifth and final ODI of the series sealed the series four games to one for the home side. It also consigned Australia to their fifth series loss in eight bilateral ODI series away from home since they lifted the 2015 ICC World Cup. One of those series wins was a one-off ODI against minnows Ireland.
For so long, the Australians have been the benchmark in world cricket, and are the dominant force in the history of ODI cricket with five World Cup trophies to their name. However, in recent times, the once-mighty limited overs team have struggled in the 50-over format, particularly away from home. Not only have Australia struggled in bilateral series, but they also had a very poor Champions Trophy tournament in England this year by failing to make it out of the group stage.
The reigning world champions now sit third in the ICC ODI rankings — on equal points with England in fourth (114 ratings points). Had they been whitewashed by India, they could have fallen to as low as fifth in the table. The Australian’s recent struggles in the format reflect their attitude towards it – they just don’t seem to take bilateral ODI cricket seriously, and this lack of respect for the format could prove costly in the long run.
One could argue that bilateral ODI series are meaningless, and they would have a fair argument too with a glut of these series lining the already packed international calendar. However, winning form is good form, and no matter how formidable Australia’s record in World Cups, they can’t just expect to turn up to the 2019 edition in England and win it — especially not with their recent record away from home.
At home, Australia — like most sides around the world — are still a powerhouse, but with the next World Cup to be played in England where they have struggled in the past two Champions Trophy tournaments, they might want to start giving ODI cricket some more respect. A start could be to send full-strength squads and the head coach along to overseas assignments.
That Darren Lehmann decided to stay in Australia to prepare for this summer’s Ashes instead of travelling with the team to India says a lot about Cricket Australia’s priorities and the coach’s attitude towards the ODI series. Of course, the Ashes are more important; they are the pinnacle for Australian and English cricketers. But this isn’t the first time Lehmann has decided to take a break from a limited overs series.
With Australia’s record away from home poor in both ODI and Test cricket under Lehmann’s stewardship there might be some pressure beginning to mount on the head coach. The former middle-order batsman was brought in after Mickey Arthur was sacked, and despite leading the team to World Cup glory and reclaiming the Ashes in Australia, he hasn’t been able to improve the national team’s fortunes outside Australian shores.
Not only has the coach taken the odd break from ODI cricket, but so have many senior players over the years. With a plethora of talented fast bowlers around the country prone to injury, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson have often been rested from ODI tours. Luckily for Australia, they do have depth in the bowling department. It is the batting that is costing them dearly.
Aside from captain Steve Smith, who perhaps hasn’t mastered limited-overs captaincy just yet, and dashing opener David Warner, the Australians lack batsmen capable of compiling a big score. Aaron Finch has the ability to go big and is hard to stop when in form, but his dominant innings are still too few and far between. Regular injuries also haven’t helped Finch’s case. Australia have relied on bit-part all-rounders to bolster their middle order for too long and now need to find capable middle-order batsmen to support their stars at the top. To do, so they need to turn to their domestic 50 over tournament, the JLT Series.
Unfortunately, the structure of this tournament epitomises the lack of importance Cricket Australia places on 50-over cricket in the modern world of glamourous and lucrative Twenty20 tournaments. With the ever-expanding Big Bash League taking up a large chunk of the peak time in Australia’s domestic summer schedule, the JLT Series is now shoehorned in at the very start of the Australian cricket season.
With the restructuring of the tournament, matches are often played at club grounds in Sydney with only a handful of games being played at Test and ODI venues around the country. Once the tournament wraps up at the end of October, there is no more domestic 50-over cricket for budding national team players to display their wares to the selectors. When the battle for the Ashes concludes, Australia will play the old enemy in a series of ODIs beginning January. The players they select for the series will not have played a 50-over game in almost three months.
Those wanting to defend the Australian team will point to their record in World Cups and turn a blind eye to the problem that is currently brewing in the national ODI set-up, but if the men in yellow want to defend their title in England in just over 18 months’ time, they might want to start taking the format a little more seriously.